(UPDATED) Why are newspapers doomed? Maybe they aren’t, but if they are, could it be because they take the wrong advice, like Mathew Ingram’s?

Here’s what I sent along to Globe and Mail publisher John Stackhouse a month ago. I led with “I’m not sure anybody in-house has the guts to tell you any of the following. So let me be the first.”

As you read the following, keep score and let me know if I’m actually wrong. I’ll wait.

Comments must be eliminated on news stories

Your paper was misled for years by Mathew Ingram, who put the Globe in an untenable conflict of interest by part-owning a technology conference while also covering the technology field as a “journalist.” You let that slide, which tells me you trusted him too much.

Here’s another example of that: There is and should not be a “conversation” in news reporting. “Join the conversation” is a meaningless Internet buzzword, one that carries the same credibility as a lecture from an SEO consultant. If we accept for a moment that a news story is a recitation of facts, then it’s of no interest whatsoever what somebody with a net connection thinks of those facts.

Newspaper comments are a proven failure. Nobody seems willing to admit that comments cannot be made to work. No amount of moderation will solve the problem, and you can’t afford the amount of moderation necessary just to appear to be addressing the problem. Comments on news stories are structurally untenable and, after a decade’s empirical data, do not, cannot, and will not work. They need to be eliminated completely and without apology.

You owe nothing to your readers but good coverage. Something you certainly don’t owe them is an invitation to a “conversation” they will go ahead and ruin.

(Op-ed pieces are another matter entirely. Heavily pre-moderated comments could work there.)

The question is: Which newspaper will be the first to admit reality and turn off comments? Why can’t it be the Globe?

Type and copy are atrocious

  • I know your predecessors hired Nick Shinn to design custom typefaces for the paper, but they aren’t sufficient. Among other things, subhed faces don’t even have a bold italic.

  • Next let’s talk about copy. Why is it I find a dozen copy errors (up to and including a proper name misspelled in a hed) in each Saturday Globe? I helpfully post photos.

    You allegedly have a copy desk, but some of its editors (like Carl Wilson) are too busy writing Céline Dion thinkpieces for rival publishers to actually edit copy. Your copy desk needs retraining by the experts.

Carl Wilson wrote in (2010.07.19) to ask “quick: what section do I work for?” without actually answering that; deny that a publisher not owned by his day job’s publisher could possibly be a “rival”; and, while not denying a connection to the “gallery of typographical errors,” didn’t admit to it, either. (Then he wrote back again in response to this very graf and stated “yes, and then you can ask me if I’ve stopped beating my wife.”) I wrote him back asking further questions, and eventually, at long last, finally, got him to state that “I primarily do structural and substantive editing, not readback or proofing.” Hence I have no hesitation clarifying, at Carl’s request, that atrocious type and copy at the Globe are not necessarily or even often his fault and that none of the nearly 200 errors I posted on Flickr are necessarily attributable to him. And then he wrote in again to attest that none of his freelance work interferes with his work for the Globe: “That would be in breach of the rules here.” (There. We friends again, Carl?)

  • The Globe makes the classic New Yorker mistake of thinking it understands the English language well enough to write its own style guide. Just as examples, names of periodicals really are italicized and titles of songs really aren’t. The Globe isn’t too good to follow strict CP style. It would help if you didn’t pretend otherwise.

Actually, a magazine would be a great idea

I know the new Globe won’t really be a daily magazine, but why the hell shouldn’t it be? You need to blow up the newspaper paradigm to survive in the 20th century.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.07.19 13:08. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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